(Courtesy of Mike Sawatzky, Winnipeg Free Press) — Darren Granger has made a habit of working overtime.
As the head equipment manager for the Los Angeles Kings, Granger has been along for the ride with one of the NHL’s most successful franchises. When the Kings aren’t winning Stanley Cups (2012 and 2014) or going on long post-season runs, Hockey Canada often comes calling with a post-season or pre-season assignment.
Granger never seems to say no.
“Our last five years have been busy, but a good busy,” the 46-year-old Brandon native said during a short break in his work day Wednesday at the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo, Calif.
“We went to the finals in ’12, went to conference finals in ’13, went to finals in ’14. I also worked the Olympics in ’14. I worked the World Cup in ’16. Two all-star games in there, too. So, we haven’t had an all-star break for those two years. They’ve been busy, but it’s what I love doing. We should all, players and staff, be wanting to work in May and June.”
Granger got his start in the business in the mid-1980s, serving as an assistant to Craig Heisinger, then the equipment manager of the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
When Heisinger moved on to the Winnipeg Jets, Granger got Zinger’s old gig and worked three more seasons in the Wheat City before graduating to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks as an assistant equipment manager in 1992.
In 2006, he was one of incoming Kings general manager Dean Lombardi’s first hires.
Granger’s job entails much more than just sharpening skates, although maintaining skates for Kings players is a crucial part of his work.
“I really like the work part of it…” Granger said. “I like trying to create something that gives a guy, not an advantage, but (something) to be able to keep him in a game. (I’ll be) adjusting skate hollows or skate profiles to hopefully make him a better skater.”
Technology has transformed the science of skates and sticks dramatically since Granger first started in the NHL. If new techniques can improve performance, he’s very interested.
“We have a lot of different machinery that helps us with that but, still, there’s a lot of process in talking with players about what they like and what they don’t like,” Granger said. “Over the years, I’ve just gotten to the point (where) I think I’ve got a pretty good understanding of watching guys skate and maybe what would help them and what might not.
“We also have a skating coach (Dave Cruikshank) and I like leaning on him (for advice) with what he thinks guys are doing wrong or maybe how the skate could help him become a better skater.”
Snap-on blade technology has revolutionized in-game adjustments. Players rarely need to remove their skates to be sharpened when it’s much simpler to snap in a new blade.
“That’s all I use here, mostly because I think… it’s really important to keep the player in the game rather than come out of the game because he’s lost an edge,” Granger said. “Unless a player would rather use what he’s been using for years.”
The only wooden stick left in Granger’s office is a relic of another age — a Koho model used by Kings head coach Darryl Sutter when he played for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1980s.
“The stick really changed,” Granger said, recalling Ryan Smyth was the last member of the Kings to use wood blades in 2010-11. “That provided a huge edge to the shooter and making the players better. I remember (Vancouver’s Pavel) Bure using a composite shaft with a wood blade back in the early ’90s.
“He liked it but now, if I showed our players that shaft, they would laugh. It was so heavy and square. That’s just the way it was. The wood ones are the same.”
The new-technology sticks come exactly to a player’s specifications now, requiring less tweaking by the players. Any changes to the flex or curve are now made at the factory.
Granger, in his 24th NHL season, also serves on a subcommittee of the league’s joint health and safety committee. He has a keen interest in the latest developments.
What about mouthguards? They’re mandatory in minor hockey, but at the pro level, the choice is very much up to the player. In this concussion-conscious era, shouldn’t they be mandatory?
“Good question,” Granger said. “If you ask a player, it’s probably a preference thing. It’s definitely optional. Maybe they’ll say they have trouble breathing or talking. The mouthguards are pretty good. Most of our guys wear mouthguards that are made by our dentist…
“We would be wanting our guys to wear them for concussions. The majority of our guys wear them.”
Granger said he can also envision a time when neckguards are in general use by NHLers, much as visors and shot-blockers on skates have come into general use. Cut-resistant gear — hockey socks, foot socks and underwear — is also gaining acceptance.
“I think we need some help there from the manufacturers on making something that’s comfortable for the guys,” Granger said, referring to neckguards.
“Nothing against the kids that are wearing them at the world junior level, but I’ve watched those games and I know they’re not wearing it properly. They’re wearing a little piece that’s say an inch big, or whatever the standard is for the IIHF. I can see his neck above and below it. It’s protecting part of the neck, but not the whole neck. I know it’s coming.”
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